Gay History, Personal Essay, Theatre

Goodbye, Yellow Brick Road

By Scott Ross

Forty-seven years ago (and as unbelievably ancient as that figure sounds to a Millennial, trust me when I say that I can’t quite believe it either), on the morning of 22 June 1969, my family was living in Mt. Vernon, Ohio. It was a lovely summer day, pleasant and dry, although I seem to think it may have rained the night before. As we didn’t have a subscription to the Sunday Columbus Dispatch, someone had always on that day of the week to walk down to the little general store nearby and pick up a copy of the paper. It was either my turn, or I volunteered, I no longer recall. After I paid for the newspaper, I walked back home, looking at the front page. The banner headline said that Judy Garland had died, at 47.

I was a very naïve child, in many ways. In part, I suspect, because I seldom voiced my inner thoughts, and therefore seldom had my misconceptions corrected. (You get verbally slapped down enough times, you learn to keep things to yourself.) Example: For several years during early childhood I was convinced that the people we saw on television lived inside the box, and somehow magically sprang into action when we turned on the set. (I used occasionally to switch it off and then right back on, hoping to catch them loafing.) The only thing I knew of Judy Garland, at that time, was that she was Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, which we watched every Easter. And while I no longer believed that people took up residence inside our black-and-white(!) Sylvania television console, I must still have maintained some notion either that film froze the people on it, or that movies were, somehow, live. So Judy Garland’s age really puzzled me. How could that young girl be 47 years old? She looked only a bit older than my sister. And 47 — why, that was 12 years older than my father!

I think of that walk back home every year at this time. Sheltered in the Ohio midlands, in a place that was something between a large town and a small city, I had little idea what was going on in the outside world. (Mt. Vernon is one of my lost Edens; and if it was a cocoon, it was a cocoon I had been happy to nestle inside.) And that summer, a great deal was going to go on, very soon, in America at least. I certainly had only the vaguest notion, despite odd stirrings within my own self for years, what a homosexual was, and wouldn’t have understood what was about to occur in a place called Greenwich Village. Whether or not grief over Judy Garland’s death had anything at all to do with the furious reactions at Stonewall — the playwright Doric Wilson thought it hadn’t, and he was there — the almost umbilical connection between “Miss Show Business” and many of her gay male fans was very real, and something I would come to understand quite well, some six or seven years later.

Garland obit

When I shared the following dialogue from my play A Liberal Education on Facebook Doric, who has since died, gently set me straight (so to speak) on the tempting Garland connection. When I thanked him and said I would consider revising the scene, he replied that I shouldn’t change a word. I loved him for that. We never met in the flesh, but I miss him. He was a wonderful writer (his play on Stonewall, Street Theatre, should be required reading for every gay boy and girl), a kind man, and a living link to that moment that helped alter so much, for so many.

Anyway, here’s the dialogue in question:

NICK: David, tell them your theory.

JO: Oh, goodie—theorizing.

DAVID: Well, we were talking—on the way over—about the differences in gay behavior.

JO: There are differences?

DAVID: Not for nothing, sweetie, but some men are gay and some are—
(He stands and throws his arms up and out in a “v”)

JO: Thanks for the clarification.

NICK: I mean, you take me. I wouldn’t even begin to know how to swish—

DAVID: He tried once. At a New Year’s Eve party? Pathetic.

JO: (Singing) I can’t camp—
(SHEREE joins in)
—don’t ask me.

DAVID: Whereas I might as well be wearing a flashing neon sign. Anyway. I was thinking, about Stonewall. And as far as I can gather, that little shin-dig was thrown by a whole lotta pissed-off drag queens and effeminate Hispanic boys and oh-so-butch ladies—

NICK: Drag queens and nellies and dykes—

JO: Oh, my!

DAVID: Exactly. Has anyone ever made the connection that, the week those girls said, “Get over it, Miss Cop,” Our Lady of the Rainbow had just doffed her ruby slippers for the last time?

NICK: Isn’t it funny to think that Judy Garland just might be the unofficial mother of the whole modern gay rights movement?

SHEREE: Hysterical. Does that make Liza Minnelli the step-mother?

JO: Please.

NICK: You have to admit, if you take anger, frustration and high temperatures and compound them with grief, you’ve got one very volatile combination.

DAVID: So, the next time some slab of overfed gay beef gives me shit for camping, I’m just going to sing him a few bars of “Zing! Went the Strings of My Heart.”

Text copyright 2016, by Scott Ross

Gay History, Graphic Arts, Homoeroticism, Personal Essay

I didn’t buy it for the articles: After Dark magazine, ca. 1978-79

By Scott Ross

Actually, the articles on theatre, movies and literature were often quite good. But I discovered After Dark magazine, at 17, because my best friend, with whom I was desperately in love, turned me on to it. (He also, through my intense attraction to him, helped me codify what I’d been feeling about other boys for so long. It was not a self-revelation he relished, but that’s another story, as they say, for another time.)

Michael and I bought our copies of After Dark at the newsstand (anyone remember those?) across from the North Carolina State University campus, and compared our reactions to the (many) photos of hot young guys in various states of undress. Michael liked the athletic ones; I preferred the boyish boys. I still do.

After Dark June 1978 5396949394_cfd2d16942

The June 1978 issue featured  piece on Bob Fosse’s Dancin’, which I was lucky enough to see a year and a half later, on my first trip to New York. Anne Reinking was out that matinee, as was her wont. But there were plenty of great dances to watch, and gorgeous dancers. Especially Timothy Scott. Who would, alas, be dead 9 years later.

Although After Dark was not specially gay — it evolved, curiously enough, from Ballroom Dance magazine(!) — each issue was chockful of homoerotic photos, and its subtitle, The Magazine of Entertainment, certainly made it of interest to a gay male audience. Some have said that the emergence of an unfettered gay press (The Advocate, Christopher Street) made After Dark, begun in 1968, a victim of its own times, and timidity. But there was plenty to recommend it to teenage gay boys like Michael and me. Where else, at our age, could we have gotten our sweaty hands on a magazine with so many sexy, gorgeous (and undressed) young men in it? After Dark, like my well-thumbed paperback copies of The Front RunnerThe City and the Pillar and Myra Breckenridge, fueled my 17-year old’s masturbatory fantasies quite nicely, thank you.

Among my favorite After Dark images, which still reside in a clip folder in my filing cabinet:


Accompanying an interview with “Toby” Bluth (brother of the animator Don) was this beautiful sketch. Three or four years later I would be in love with another young man, allegedly straight, who looked very much like Toby’s sexy boy, right down to the long blond mane.

David Vance - Innocence

This ad for David Vance’s lithographs ran in issue after issue. I wanted this boy badly at 17.

Peter Reed SF's Pacific Ballet principal Duncan IMG

Kenn Duncan’s photos of divas and beautiful young men appeared often. Above, Peter Reed, principal dancer with San Francisco’s Pacific Ballet.

John Meehan American Ballet principal Duncan IMG_0003

Kenn Duncan’s incredibly erotic portrait of American Ballet principal dancer John Meehan was an instant turn-on for me. I used his magnificent ass for fantasy fodder more times over the years than I can count.

Duncan dancer IMG

A Kenn Duncan portrait of another principal dancer of the period. I’ve lost the caption, so I don’t know who he is, or with which company he danced. But his laughing face, and the position in which Duncan photographed him, so indicative of how I wanted to find this boy in my bedroom, revved my adolescent engine into overdrive.

There’s a great deal to be said for openness, in life, in art and in glossy magazines; I wouldn’t go back to those days of fumbling subterfuge for anything. And yet, After Dark, for all of its reticence, was the right publication at the right moment for a generation trembling on the cusp of full sexual integration. It served its purpose. It certainly provided a safe erotic outlet for this anxious adolescent. However coy it may have been, it holds a special place in my heart for that.

Text copyright 2013 by Scott Ross

Gay History

Signposts of a pandemic: Life magazine, July 1985

By Scott Ross

I can still vividly recall my absolute fury on seeing this appalling Life magazine cover in a grocery store in the summer of 1985.

The editors might just as well have written, “Now It’s Not Just Killing Worthless Faggots.” Still one of the most shamefully bigoted, jaw-droppingly insensitive things I’ve ever seen on a national level.

Text copyright 2013 by Scott Ross


Gay History

The sweetest wallet photo inscription I’ve ever seen

Gay History, Personal Essay

I’ll take what’s behind Door Number Three, Monty

By Scott Ross

“… if you removed all of the homosexuals and homosexual influence from what is generally regarded as American culture, you would pretty much be left with Let’s Make a Deal.” — Fran Lebowitz, “Tips for Teens” in Social Studies, 1981
Well, they removed a lot of us. And that’s pretty much what we have now.

Someone, years ago in a Premiere magazine piece on the effect of AIDS on Hollywood — and I fervently wish I could track this statement down but a copy of the article continues to elude me — gave what to me was a perfect definition: That, historically, gay men had functioned in popular American culture as a “buffer” between art and commercialism, and that the buffer had now been removed.

I think it perfectly plain, when you look at the post-’80s product, on screen and in New York, that this is absolutely the case. Sadly, many of those gay men in the creative arts who lived through the plague, have either been co-opted into the appalling state of things by lure of money or further fame or both, or see no difference. Some of them once did astounding, even revolutionary work and now contribute mainly to the utter creative ennui (an oxymoron, I know) that is the norm. Maybe they’ve just been exhausted by the strain. But those who arrived on the scene after the peak years of crisis apparently join in enthusiastically, out of sheer lack of will, talent… and taste — the one essential attribute in which we artsy fags once wrapped ourselves, and took justifiable pride in.

I am fully persuaded that the three greatest blows to American popular culture in the past century were, in chronological order, the Production Code, the Blacklist, and AIDS.

We’ve never fully recovered from any of them.

Do we, as a nation, even care to?

Text copyright 2013 by Scott Ross

Gay History

“You faggots are revolting!”: Stonewall

Cat-call at the first gay parade in New York. To which an anonymous wit shouted back, “You bet your sweet ass we are!”

By Scott Ross

A few signposts leading to, and from, 27 and 28 June, 1969.

The late Frank Kameny in Philadelphia in 1965. Fired from his government job in 1957 as a “sex pervert,” he took his case to the Supreme Court in 1961, eight years before Stonewall. One of the most courageous men of his time.

Lesbian rights pioneers Barbara Gittings and her lifetime partner Kay (Tobin) Lahusen, in the early 1960s

The Black Cat Tavern in the Silverlake district of L.A. On New Year’s Eve 1967—a full two and half years before the Stonewall uprising—patrons rioted when the cops arrested and brutally beat its patrons. The Advocate arose from this infamous event. Why do so few of us know it happened?
Above and below: The Stonewall Inn, 28 June 1969. The night the queers fought back.
How the New York Times chose to cover Stonewall.
The late playwright Doric Wilson, who was there. His fantasia about Stonewall, Street Theatre, should be required reading for every intelligent homo.
One of the first posters of a new movement, if not the first.
The late — how I tire of using that phrase — Vito Russo, an early activist whose groundbreaking book The Celluloid Closet, marrying two of my chief interests (movies and homosexuality) rocked my world in 1981.
Text copyright 2013 by Scott Ross